School buses are a safe way to get children to and from their learning locations. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. Calls school buses the “safest vehicles on the road,” and says students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when they take a school bus instead of a car.
But there are moments along the bus route when bad things can happen.
On average, about five children die on a school bus each year, but there are 25,000 injuries and 100 deaths each year in school areas and at school bus stops in the United States. These are the numbers that a new partnership between Audi of America, the Blue Bird Bus Company, and a school district in Georgia are trying to overthrow, among other things.
The idea expands the use of C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) technology, which Audi has been working on with Qualcomm and Commsignia for years. Last year, Audi tested the C-V2X technology on construction sites in Virginia and figured out how the car can notify the driver warnings from the construction signs or workers.
In Georgia, Audi and its partners are installing devices both in a school bus and in speed limit signs in the school zone to generate visual and acoustic warnings in an Audi test vehicle, in this case an electric SUV SUV e-tron Sportback from 2021.
Signals are sent from the signs when the nearby school is actively welcoming or clearing students. The buses (just a test bus at the moment) test both LTE and 5G signals when the driver stops to pick up or drop off children. In a normal bus, charging or discharging signals are often only visual: flashing red or yellow lights and a folding stop sign on the bus itself.
If the test bus has these standard warnings enabled and the bus ‘stop arm’ (a driver-controlled physical barrier that is raised only when there is no oncoming, moving traffic) is used, the bus equipped with C-V2X is automatically used sends a signal to the nearby e-tron (Picture below). The driver does not need to take any special steps to trigger the notification.
The Fulton County School System is one of the largest school districts in Georgia with a fleet of 930 buses transporting 78,000 students to and from school every day. With a widely available technology like the C-V2X signals, Trey Stow, the county’s transportation director, would feel much better with the students he’s responsible for.
“I’m not worried about our students when we put them on the bus,” he says. “Our problem is getting these students on and off the bus as soon as they are in what we call the danger zone around the school bus.”
As with the road construction test in Virginia, Audi is not yet ready to say whether or when its production vehicles will be able to receive messages from school buses. The car manufacturer has been offering traffic light information (TLI) in its vehicles since model year 2017. This vehicle-to-infrastructure technology adds a countdown timer to the car so drivers know when the traffic light is green.
There are currently around 21,000 connected traffic signals in over 30 subway areas in the United States, says Pom Malhotra, Senior Director Connected Services at Audi of America.
“What we’ve learned most from TLI is that early warnings change driver behavior. If you can get information about a traffic light that will be red until you reach the intersection, the way you approach that intersection will be different. ” he says.
Audi is likely to expand its C-V2X projects thanks to a November 2020 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that first allocated a portion of the 5.9 GHz cellular band for C-V2X applications.
Audi says the school bus project will “impact next generation vehicle development,” and Malhotra is optimistic about this type of safety technology for the next decade.
“There are 100,000 schools in the US, and it is very likely that as this technology spreads, everyone will likely be equipped with it, for example by 2030,” he says.